Game, Toy, Property: Ralph Does More Than Wreck-It

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Wreck-It Ralph follows an 8-bit arcade game villain as he goes rogue through games, and in the process makes adorable reference to games of arcades past.

The Disney animators put an emphasis on the style and graphic qualities of each game world. As the characters are “workers” inside the games (with lives outside their work, not unlike Toy Story) the audio-visual density of “life” is lighter than it is when a quarter is entering the slot.

Producer Clark Spencer said Executive Producer John Lasseter (Toy Story) had a lasting impact on the animation. “Lasseter pushed the idea of each world as distinct and pushed for simplicity.” When Ralph’s game is on pause, the characters look like up-to-date CG animations but stutter like 8-bit characters. Spenser says, Lasseter “told us not to be afraid to take out frames, let the characters show their 8-bit origins.” The effect is incredibly charming, with Weeble-like characters skipping beats as a matter of course. It makes you wanna snuggle them.

Lasseter also guided the animators to make Heroes Duty, the game Ralph runs into to earn a medal, “like Saving Private Ryan meets Aliens” and that Sugar Rush, the girly racing game where Ralph spends most of the film’s running time, “should be as appealing as possible.” Since the game happens in a world of candy, the rationale here is evident. And yes, they made it a yummy universe.

For most of the animators on board, video games were a subject of childhood affection. Spenser says, “There are 300-400 people working on any major sequence which means there were that many people thinking creatively about who they’d like to see in Game Central Station.” That’s why director Rich Moore (previously of The Simpsons and Futurama) says, “In Game Central Station, cameos abound.”

For a while it seemed like the Disney legal department would get a workout; a movie about a video game is going to reference characters like Sonic, Bowser, and in less fortunate circumstances, Q-bert--characters Disney doesn't own. But according to Moore and Spenser, everyone was cooperative, with some arguing about the size of their characters in proportion to Ralph and Felix. In a world where Zangief appears in a room with Bowser, of course we should expect some brand-name chest beating.

Some companies, Nintendo in particular, was open to cross-promotion, and they’re launching a Nintendo 3DS and Wii racing game that feature Ralph as a character with specially designed vehicles for racing. The game, called Sonic All Star Racing Transformed, will appear in the market early November and will also see a Bonus edition in time for the holidays.

Disney’s VP of Mobile development, Jim Molinets, says Disney has had success in mobile recently with their synergy games and they hope to continue that with Wreck-It Ralph. They’ve produced a mobile app that contains three simple games: Fix-It Felix, Hero’s Duty and Sweet Climber. The first two function mostly as they appear in the film, while the third is a game that takes place exclusively in the candy cane trees of Sugar Rush.

With all these toy and game tie-ins, I had to ask the screenwriter what came first: the story or the swag? Of course he said “the story” but you be the judge. Interview with screenwriter Phil Johnston coming shortly.

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About Sara Vizcarrondo

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Sara Vizcarrondo is a freelance film critic out of San Francisco. She runs Opening Movies at Rottentomatoes, teaches film/media studies at DeAnza college and writes on film for Popdose and The SF Bay Guardian.

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